Even the most famous musicians probably wished they had taken greater legal steps to protect their music in their early careers. To give an example, in 1971 George Harrison was successfully sued for unintentionally copying a song from the Chiffons. Even though the judge believed that song was only subconsciously copied, Harrison had to pay an estimated $1.5 million!
Are you ready to rock? Our LawBrief, Marilee Owens-Richards, shares everything you must know on Intellectual Property Rights in music.
What are intellectual property rights in music?
The owner of the copyright has a number of exclusive rights in the work, such as the right to reproduce the work, distribute the work, perform in public, make recordings and to make derivative works. In general, there are two types of music copyright. One is for the song or the composition and the other protects the recording or performance of a song.
The songwriting or composition copyright arises when a song is completed and then “fixed” by writing it out. The recording copyright arises when the song is played and recorded. The two copyrights may be owned by the same person or different parties.
Frequently, musicians will transfer at least the recording copyright to a music label, if not the composition copyright as well.
What are the steps to take to protect your music?
There are several steps to take to protect your music. The first is to ensure that you use copyright notices. For a song, you should use the © symbol with your name and the year. For recording copyright, the ℗ symbol should be used along with the name of the owner of the recording and the year. In the UK, you do not need to register your copyright in order for it to be valid. In the US and Canada, it is not mandatory to register the copyright until you are ready to invoke your rights, but it is good practice to do so anyway. Registration helps you prove ownership of your work and can also allow you to register with royalty collecting organisations and others.
Many of these organisations require proof of copyright ownership before they will contract with you. If you are in the UK, or another country without a copyright registry, you can take actions to help prove you own the copyright. One option is to register with the US copyright registry (the US Copyright Office). A solicitor can also help you prepare certain documents that will help prove the ownership and date of your copyright. You should also be careful when your work is part of a contract. Both types of copyright can be valuable, so it is important to ensure that you understand when and how you are transferring your copyright if you contract with a music label.
It is worthwhile to have a legal professional review your contract to make sure that you are not inadvertently giving away more rights than you want.
Music copyright can be so valuable that sometimes the revenue from a music catalogue can be further monetised by securitisation. In 1997, David Bowie received $55 million dollars in exchange for the future revenue of 25 albums. That revenue was packaged into an asset backed security named a Bowie Bond.
- There are two types of music copyright. One is for the song or the composition and the other protects the recording or performance of a song
- Make sure that you use copyright notices
- Registration helps you prove ownership of your work
- Make sure that you understand when and how you are transferring your copyright
The author of this article is expert LawBrief Marilee Owens-Richards.
Marilee Owens-Richards has over 10 years of experience in IP, IT and commercial law. Marilee qualified in the US (New York State) in 2007.
She moved to the UK and qualified in England and Wales in 2009. She has experience working with a range of clients from small businesses to large multinational corporations. Since 2012 she has worked with Monotype, Ericsson and Epicor. She is available to consult for a range of IP and IT matters.